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DIA on track to self-sufficiency

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

Halfway through the 10-year run of the Detroit Institute of Arts’ regional millage, museum officials say they’re on track to be self-sufficient by the time it expires.

An annual tax form released Monday put the DIA’s operating endowment at $121 million through June 2016. Since then, said board chair Gene Gargaro, the operating endowment has grown to $158 million, with a target of $400 million by the end of 2022.

The Form 990, required of not-for-profits as a public record, also outlined the previously announced final payments to former president and CEO Graham Beal, whose 16-year tenure ended in 2015. Beal received contractual bonuses of $142,500 and $163,000, plus $97,000 in accrued time off.

Since-departed COO Annmarie Erickson received $65,000 in bonuses, while CFO Robert Bowen received $40,000.

Gargaro emphasized that all bonuses were paid by specifically targeted donations, rather than taxpayer money. The DIA had taken heavy criticism in 2014 when its tax filing revealed 2012 raises and bonuses given while Detroit was plunging toward bankruptcy and the museum was receiving its first payments from the tri-county millage that raises 70 percent of the operating budget, about $23 million per year.

Beal’s replacement, Salvador Salort-Pons, has discontinued the bonus system and endorsed the board’s avowed focus on transparency, which includes annual public hearings with the three counties’ art authorities and an open invitation to DIA board meetings for county officials and art authority members.

“I believe in transparency,” said Salort-Pons, who earns $400,000 per year in a five-year contract that tops out at $475,000 in 2020. “I believe people should know what the salary of the director of the DIA is.”

Oakland County Commissioner Shelley Taub, R-Bloomfield Township, who had criticized the DIA for a lack of openness, said she is pleased with both the new approach and Salort-Pons.

“I am delighted with the willingness to share. It’s a good thing,” she said. “We’ve had a wonderful presentation by the new director, who is, by the way, a delight.”

Gargaro noted that compared to the leaders of other major art museums, Salort-Pons is in the lower third in terms of salary.

“We want to be sensitive to the times and where we are in the city and the state of Michigan,” Gargaro said, while recognizing “an outstanding leader of a great institution, and what it takes to incentivize and retain him in that role.”

Tax filings show that the head of the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art in New York earns $999,309, while other directors’ salaries include $837,850 at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, $744,510 at the Dallas Museum of Art, $637,169 at the Art Institute of Chicago, $517,795 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, $503,834 at the Seattle Art Museum, and $263,077 at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

For his part, Salort-Pons said that professional pride and satisfaction are facets of his compensation, even if they aren’t expressed in numbers.

“Part of the pay is being the director itself,” he said. His approach to bonuses is that “as a professional, I don’t need to be incentivized by a bonus. That is not what motivates me to do a good job.”

A top priority since his promotion in October 2015 has been filling open slots on the staff, including several curators. A prominent position still to be filled is vice-president for development, Gargaro said.

Salort-Pons and Gargaro said they were optimistic that the endowment drive would hit its target — “with the footnote,” Gargaro said, that as a result of the civic bankruptcy, “we took 2 1/2 years off course to raise $100 million for the Grand Bargain.”

The operating endowment is separate from an acquisitions endowment that stands at $85 million and cannot be used for day-to-day expenses.

If the DIA can raise another $155 million to $160 million before the millage ends in December 2022, Salort-Pons said, that and five years of expected dividends from the endowment would total $400 million.

At that point, he said, the annual income would replace the millage’s contribution to the museum’s approximate operating budget of $35 million.

Twitter: @nealrubin_dn